Rebuilding with goats and Merinos

Rebuilding with goats and Merinos

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Western Queensland grazier Jim McKenzie is keen to focus on sheep and goats when seasons finally improve.

Western Queensland grazier Jim McKenzie is keen to focus on sheep and goats when seasons finally improve.

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In our final installment of our Rebuilding the Flock feature we talk to western Queensland graziers, the McKenzie family, who plan to focus on Merinos and goats once the drought breaks.

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Easy care Merino sheep and goats are emerging as the front runners when it comes to the enterprises Cunnamulla's McKenzie family will strive to focus on once post-drought recovery begins.

Jim and Trish McKenzie own the 26,000ha Garmarren, located 100km southeast of Cunnamulla, Qld, while their son and daughter-in-law, Ben and Andrea, operate Yaralla, a 24,300ha property that adjoins south east of Gamarren on part of its southern boundary.

The family has always been focused on woolgrowing and usually run 3000 to 4000 Merino ewes.

Thanks to a tough run of bad seasons, their ewe numbers are currently back to just 1500.

But with a big exclusion fencing project now underway that will see their two properties enclosed by a dog-proof fence this time next year, the McKenzies are well-positioned to re-evaluate what stock they'll run in the future.

The family has been running feral goats behind electric fences for the past 16 years but has seen a decline in the number of goats harvested in recent seasons.

"Up until recently we've just been harvesting them, and putting the small goats back into the paddock but our harvest has gone from 3000 goats a year four or five years ago to about 300 head now," Jim McKenzie said.

But with strong returns for goats continuing and a goat processor just over 300km away at Charleville, Mr McKenzie said the family was keen to learn more about how to better manage their flock.

Boer cross goats on the McKenzie's Cunnamulla property in western Queensland.

Boer cross goats on the McKenzie's Cunnamulla property in western Queensland.

"With goat prices the way they are we will probably look at trying to run a herd of 1500 to 2000 goats," he said.

"We've got six goat paddocks now and we'll look at doing more.

"We've taken most of the billy goats out and are putting Boer cross goats back into the herd.

"They seem to be very fertile but we are still learning about how much we can push them and how best to manage them."

Despite the strength of goat prices and the relative ease of management that comes with the enterprise, Mr Mckenzie says wool will remain an important part of the family business.

Their flock is based on Centre Plus Merinos - performance record bloodline that has helped the McKenzies achieve their aim of producing easy care sheep with 19-micron wool.

"We stopped mulesing in 2007 so we needed a sheep that was easy care," Mr McKenzie said.

The McKenzies aim to shear when the staple has reached about 65mm in length.

Their most recent shearing was in October when 3500 sheep, including 1000 lambs, yielded 74 bales.

The wool sold in late November for $1700 a bale.

"The wool market has gone off compared to what it was this time last year but it (the wool cheque) was still pretty good for what it was," he said.

"The wool was pretty low yielding and a bit weak so the dollar value was far better than say five years ago."

While most southern Queensland livestock producers are busy hand-feeding stock, the Cunnamulla district has been fortunate to receive some timely rainfall events this year.

Storm rain in April and May on Gamarren meant the McKenzies were able to stop supplementary feeding programs and while it looked likely that would have to begin again in early summer, a few storms over the past six weeks, that delivered 22mm in one week and 36mm a month later, have again produced some handy sheep feed. Yaralla remains very dry having missed the storm rain.

Jim McKenzie

Jim McKenzie

"We haven't fed since the rain in April but up until then we had been feeding Riverina pellets, cottonseed and hay," Mr Mckenzie said.

"We were very reluctant to go back into feeding so when it started getting dry again in October and November we looked to lighten off again."

The McKenzies recently sold a line of ewe lambs on AuctionsPlus for $158/head.

The young ewes went to producers at Holbrook in southern NSW who planned to breed from them.

"It might be dry but at least we are getting well paid for the stock we have to sell," Mr Mckenzie said.

"We aren't brilliant but there is sheep pick here and there and the sheep have spread out and are doing reasonably well."

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